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Some students upset by another potential ‘superspreader’ event

James Hight building at the University of Canterbury

By Tessa Guest

During the day, the University of Canterbury’s campus is almost deserted.

James Hight building at the University of Canterbury

The University of Canterbury’s Ilam campus.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Staff and students are isolating with Covid-19, or participating in courses online. Only a few classes remain in-person.

But on Saturday night, a field near the campus was filled with noise and people.

University-owned Ilam Fields has become home to uncontrolled parties taking place instead of traditional Orientation Week events, which were canned due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Hundreds of students gathered for a makeshift toga party two weeks ago, and more returned for another large gathering last weekend.

Mattresses were thrown around, people urinated in bushes, and the field was left strewn with rubbish and broken glass.

First-year hall resident Molly said the organisers and attendees were largely other student residents, and that the hall’s strict alcohol bans pushed people to drink in public spaces.

With community cases surging, she said the gatherings made some residents feel more anxious about getting Covid-19.

“I was definitely keeping my distance because I didn’t want to catch it, and it was definitely a superspreader,” she said.

Third-year geography student Natalie O’Connell was one of the few students choosing to work from the campus this week, and said it was clear the party-goers didn’t care about the effect their actions were having.

“People are going out of their way to get mass gatherings of definitely more than 100, no one’s checking vaccine passes, no one’s on security, so it’s all round pretty irresponsible, and they know it,” she said.

‘Tough time for students’

University of Canterbury Student Association president Pierce Crowley was sympathetic to those who attended, citing the lack of Orientation Week events as the driver of alternative gatherings.

Pierce Crowley, UCSA president

Pierce Crowley
Photo: Supplied

“It’s a really tough time for students. For many of them, this is their second or third year of disrupted learning,” he said.

“This [the partying] hasn’t happened in the past, and that’s because we’ve been able to host events that have got it out of people’s systems in a big burst at the beginning of the semester.”

He said the association was focused on educating students on the legal requirements of gatherings in the red traffic light setting.

Co-editor of the university’s student magazine, Ella Gibson, thought more could be done now to give students safe partying options.

“There’s definitely a gap in the fun infamous night-time drinking events,” she said.

She thought the party-goers were on the right track in using Ilam Fields, and that the area could be used for controlled night-time events within the current Covid-19 guidelines.

Crowley said the restrictions made it too difficult to host any large events safely now, but a priority for the association was hosting replacements to Orientation Week events as soon as it was possible.

“We’re really keen, once we have the ability to do so again, to host these events and get it in a supervised environment where students can party safely and stay out of the community’s hair.”

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‘Let’s Rock Together’ charity event pulled, organizer upset with Tiny CAO

'Let's Rock Together' charity event pulled, organizer upset with Tiny CAO

‘We deserve their level of trust’, event chair says; CAO counters managing risk, liability are simply municipal policy

It might seem like no one wins here, but at least no one is sued either.

Chair Diane Leblovic of ‘Let’s Rock Together’ contacted MidlandToday to express frustration in the finer details of the project prior to the withdrawal of its 2022 application to Tiny Township.

Let’s Rock Together (LRT) is a charity event, which was proposed for this summer in Balm Beach as a celebration of relief from pandemic frustrations and as a fundraiser for Parkside Drive.

LRT was first pitched to Tiny council in late November as “an evening of rock & roll, food, and fun” for an older Tiny audience of up to 500 people, who would appreciate the musical tastes of local classic band The Desotos. A beer and wine bar was also being considered by Leblovic and project manager Don Chapman.

At the November council meeting, Mayor and George Cornell Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma were absent leaving three councillors and staff to handle the proceedings; the smaller council supported the event in principle but requested unprovided financial details from LRT prior to approvals in the 2022 budget discussions.

In December, LRT presented the financing to a full council, confirming that alcohol would be served and asking for in-kind support from the township as given in previous charity events like Leblovic’s successful Balm Beach Family Fun Day. Leblovic urged expediency to council in hastening the pre-approval of financial support, which Mayor George Cornell informed Leblovic would be a matter of procedure for January.

CAO Robert Lamb spoke up in the closing moments of that meeting to clarify matters.

“I understand you’re looking for the municipality to front $16,000 to be able to enter into contracts,” stated Lamb in the meeting, “but who is signing those contracts? Are you looking for the municipality to sign it or are those contracts going to be signed by yourselves and some other organization? Who is getting the liquor licence?

“Those are important questions for council to understand from a liability and an ownership of the event perspective,” noted Lamb in advising why quick recommendations by staff were extremely difficult.

LRT responded that Tiny had signed responsibility for prior events, not acknowledging that those weren’t liquor licensed.

At council in January, a risk management report from staff recommended that LRT collaborate with a registered charity or not-for-profit organization, placing risks and liabilities with the third party.

Recreation director Bonita Desroches informed council that “a perfect partnership” did exist in the annual Festival du Loup event where council contributed support while the organizers signed on for all the risks; LRT would make Tiny take the risk.

Leblovic preempted council’s decision with an open deputation, insisting that the discussion of risk management and liability had not been introduced or addressed since planning had started in 2020. Council passed the staff recommendation.

“We’re very disappointed that, at the end of the day, they didn’t want to support us,” Leblovic told MidlandToday, insisting that CAO Lamb should have approached LRT before December and discussed risk management and liability issues instead of at the end of the council meeting.

“Then there was a total flip-flop. Total flip-flop. And I knew they didn’t understand any of the request around the line of credit, because it was never a grant. Never a grant. Ever. In every experience with the township, we never asked for a grant. It was always a line of credit, and we always got it. 

“And then the other part of this is that the council… didn’t demonstrate the well-deserved level of trust and confidence in (Chapman and myself) by committing to partner with us. We think we deserve their level of trust by the things we’d done as volunteers!”

She said that over the last number of years, they had given $27,000 towards helping with Tiny’s playgrounds.

“And then I think they tried to shift all this risk and liability in their suggestions to another party, a registered not-for-profit. Okay? They just tried to shift it somewhere else,” explained Leblovic.

When asked if the LRT had lost any personal money, Leblovic said no and noted that it was time that was lost.

CAO Lamb was contacted for a response.

“The event, as proposed, did not follow what council-approved policies were. And council’s resolution was – they actually still supported the event, but they supported the event under the aspect of it being of us partnering with somebody that was a registered charity (and/or) not-for-profit as was our policy.”

In speaking directly to LRT, Tiny staff continued to raise the question of what partnering meant with the organization.

“In the end, partnering meant we’d be taking on all of the liability and the signing of the contracts, and the taking of the liquor license for the event,” said Lamb.  “(This is) not traditionally a role that the municipality would play, and not a role that we played in the other great events that the association put on in the past to raise money.”

Lamb remarked that Orillia had held downtown events in the early 2000s and that after three years their business management group decided to move away from those events due to similar risk management and liability issues.

“Because there’s still a personal name on the liquor licence,” he stated, adding “a lot has changed in 20 years.”

Throughout the conversation, Lamb repeatedly praised the volunteer efforts made by Leblovic and Chapman and looked forward to the potential for more efforts ahead.

“This was simply about the structure of this event and nothing more,” Lamb concluded.

Leblovic admitted that although LRT had withdrawn the event for 2022, there was still a possibility, albeit a low probability, of having a Let’s Rock Together party next year.

The Let’s Rock Together presentations, correspondence to council, and municipal policies relating to special events can be found in the January agenda on the Township of Tiny webpage.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.